It has been a bumpy ride for Ipswich fans over the last few years and never has that journey felt more hazardous than this season. Fans have had to witness inconsistent performances ranging from a humiliating 7-1 defeat against Peterborough, to an inspiring 5-1 victory over promotion favourites West Ham. Seeing Ipswich high up in the form tables over the last few months could make it easy to forget that the side has not changed much on paper from the team that lost 7 in a row earlier in the season. Results only tell you so much though, the real question is, has the team finally found stability and consistency? After the recent game against Middlesbrough I was left wondering, how far is Ipswich from being a top six side?
The ambition to become a top 6 side is without question as the estimated cost of the eleven Ipswich players who started against Middlesbrough comes to figure of around £8,500,000. To put that figure into perspective, Middlesbrough’s starting eleven set them back a similar amount of roughly £9,000,000. It was encouraging to see that on the day there was not a lot of difference between the Ipswich and Middlesbrough sides. The one noticeable difference was the superior defensive prowess of Middlesbrough but aside from this, the two teams appeared almost equal in ability. To the more optimistic fans, that would be a sign that the team is only a couple of solid defensive players away from finally reaching those vital top 6 spots.
However, you have to take a step back from the encouraging recent performances and see the bigger picture. Towards the end of every season I hear the same line from fans who cite “With a couple of good signings we will be there next season”. In reality there are not many teams in the Championship who spend more each year than Ipswich and without a doubt, no team consistently spends as much as the Tractor Boys without getting anywhere near the play-offs year after year. The main difference between Ipswich and teams in the ever so distant top 6 positions has little to do with the amount of money being spent.
When looking across the sides that have either gained promotion previously or are currently challenging for promotion, we can see that some have spent big such as QPR and West Ham. However looking beyond the numbers and names on paper, there is a more revealing trend becoming prevalent. Everybody looks at the names on paper and the money spent, but the real key to promotion is something you can’t buy. Teams such as Swansea, Blackpool and as much as it pains me to say it Norwich, did not achieve promotion by throwing endless amounts of money into their teams buying over rated Premier League players. They worked hard to find players with relatively low reputations who just needed to be given a chance to show their worth. It appears that the best way to build a team for a promotion push is to find and develop players either from the lower leagues or the youth academy which is something Ipswich have not done enough of. It is no coincidence that Cresswell and Drury have been two of Town’s best players this season whilst bigger names such as Bullard and Bowyer have been average at best. Before this season the only real bright sparks have been Walters (who was plucked from league 2) and Connor Wickham from the youth academy. Even though Middlesbrough have spent a lot on their team, five of the eleven players who started against Town had come through their youth system.
So how close are Ipswich from having a team built in the vein of these promotion contenders? Although building a team is never as simple as just bringing in the right names on paper, maybe those forever optimistic fans will be right in saying that next year will be our year. After all, the side has some strong players in each area now with Cresswell, Drury and Emmanuel-Thomas all looking like players with a hunger to make a name for themselves and thrive to push the club forward. Unfortunately the harsh reality is that the team is still holding a lot of dead weight and a couple of changes probably won’t be enough to take the team to the next level. I am just crossing my fingers in hope that for once, the faces brought in over the summer are players with a point to prove from the lower leagues rather than Premier League failures that are just in it for the money.
If Jewell has the right approach over the summer we could be turning up to Portman Road next season and seeing a side full of ambition, contending for a promotion spot. The challenge is still as monumental as ever though. I for one am sceptical as to whether the Jewell will be able to replace all the dead weight in the team and build a team much like Swansea, Blackpool and Norwich did in a single season.